Fr John Bertè IMC was, together with Fr Jack Viscardi, the first Consolata Missionary to arrive in South Africa for pastoral work. It was March 10, 1971.
Our presence in South Africa had started in 1948 in Cape Town. The goal at that time was to welcome young missionaries for further studies who would then be appointed to Kenya and Tanzania.
Being both called "Giovanni" (Bertè and Viscardi) it seems they agreed to be called "John" and "Jack" and that is how we always knew them.
When Fr Michael Paschal Rowland OFM was appointed first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Dundee, Fr John was appointed Vicar General. Together with the Bishop and the diocesan secretary, Mrs Isabel Seady, the three formed an excellent team that made this diocese run a huge number of projects with a very small and dynamic structure.
John was an expert in buildings. Once the bishop and his council would decide on a new one, John would follow it from beginning to end and while going from one place to another he would stop to visit the priests at other places.
It was probably in 2003 when he had to leave South Africa and go back to Italy due to his health. He died at the beginning of 2005.
After becoming a Bishop I always had in my heart the wish to go and pray at Prada, where he is buried. His family was very happy with the idea. The problem was for me to find the time...
It finally happened at the end of April. Arriving in Milan, his sister Anna and his brother-in-law Franco took me to Prada where the rest of the family gathered in the evening. On Wednesday May 1st together with the community of Prada, we gathered for Mass and thanked God for having sent Fr John Bertè to South Africa (after working for some years in Kenya).
Probably the main building we will always be grateful for is the "Pax Christi Pastoral Centre" in Newcastle. The centre is not just at the service of the Diocese but of the whole Metropolitan Province. A Catechetical Training in English and Zulu is run for at least six dioceses every year in January, on-going formation for priests have become a yearly appointment, the "baby bishops" met there at the beginning of our service in 2009...
Last April 21 Fr Rocco Marra IMC shared on Facebook the tenth anniversary of Maria Consolata Parish (the last one built by Fr John Bertè). Below there was this comment from Fr Musa Mncwango, a diocesan priest from the area:
Auguri a tutti i parrocchiani della Parrochia Maria Consolata! e Grazie a tutti i Missionari della Consolata che hanno lavorato con impegno per la creazione e per lo svilluppo della nostra diocesi! Oggi è un giorno di pregare per Padre Giovanni Bertè!!! Siyanibongisa nonke!!!!
While thanking all the Consolata Missionaries who worked for the creation and developing of the diocese, he had a special word for Fr John.
He is remembered by the lay people, religious and priests of the diocese. We now count on his intercession from heaven.